Date of Award

Fall 12-2020

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Susannah J. Ural

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Kyle F. Zelner

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Andrew P. Haley

Committee Member 3 School



Many studies of the American Civil War have considered why Mississippi leaders voted to secede, while Kentucky politicians remained in the Union. Scholars have previously focused on political elites to understand the underlying motivations behind each state’s decision. These same scholars have often confined their studies to a synthesis of why secession occurred nationally or at the state level. The question remains as to what the common citizen saw and believed when faced with secession and if their views matched their delegates.

This study utilizes the governors’ papers of John J. Pettus and Beriah Magoffin, the Jefferson Davis papers, and Mississippi and Kentucky newspapers to compare the views of citizens from two economically and politically similar states that responded differently to secession. This thesis argues that middle-class Mississippians and Kentuckians took action against a perceived Republican threat in similar ways between 1859 and 1861, but whose decisions concerning secession were ultimately affected by their identities and founding ideals. Mississippians were increasingly devoted to states’ rights and sought to raise companies in order to defend their power and their state from a possible northern invasion. Meanwhile, Kentuckians refused to support the North or the Deep South, as they viewed both as having extremist ideals, and sought to protect their independency from that same extremism. This study additionally engages the arguments of historians Dwight L. Dumond, William H. Freehling, Timothy B. Smith, Elizabeth Varon, and James W. Finck who offered an in-depth analysis on the roots and causes of disunion.